Proposed Detroit streetcar ordinances affects biking

There is a public hearing on Monday, May 8th at 10:06AM for new Detroit ordinances relating to the QLine. They mostly relate to streetcar operations but some affect bicycling on Woodward Avenue.

The initial ordinance language raised a couple primary concerns for Woodward bicyclists.

  • Though not intended as such, 58-10-18 appeared to prohibit bicyclists from riding near or across streetcar tracks.
  • Both 58-10-11 and 58-10-51 prohibit bicyclists riding “in a manner calculated” to delay the streetcar.

The ordinance specified these as misdemeanors with up to a $500 fine and/or 90 days in jail.

We met with MDOT, M1 Rail, and Council member Scott Benson’s office to review the language and address these concerns. Council member Benson was able to get positive changes made to the ordinance language before Monday’s hearing.

For the first concern, the intention was to prohibit people from making devices that could ride specifically on the rail. The language has been clarified to better match this intent.

As for the second concern, the wording was changed from the “calculating” to the more common legal term “intentionally”. While still open to interpretation from enforcement, it’s an improvement. Besides this may not end up being too much of a concern as the QLine is rather slow and makes numerous stops. It’s more likely to impede bicyclists than vise versa.

Enforceable?

Although the ordinance is expected to pass City Council on the 9th, we still have questions of how enforceable these bicycle ordinances will be given the State’s Motor Vehicle Code (MVC). The MVC smartly tries to keep road regulations uniform across the state while requiring notice to users when they are different at the local level.

The MVC does allow local governments to regulate the operation of bicycles, but those regulations must be posted.

An ordinance or regulation … shall not be enforceable until signs giving notice of the local traffic regulations are posted upon or at the entrance to the highway or street or part of the highway or street affected, as may be most appropriate, and are sufficiently legible as to be seen by an ordinarily observant person.

There had not been any prior plans to post such signs.

Another question involves conflicts between this ordinance and the MVC. The latter gives bicyclists the right to ride on the right side of Woodward. The local ordinance (58-10-52) says bicyclists lose that right when the streetcar gives a signal. That seems to conflict with the MVC language on local regulations, but that’s unclear.

Be Safe!

None of this is to say you shouldn’t get out of the way of a heavy streetcar for your own safety. However, given the meandering rail alignment, safely getting of the way of anything is a challenge enough without adding the fear of a misdemeanor.

Other tips: Always try to cross the rails at a 90-degree angle and remember that wet rails are extra slippery.

Under many circumstances, Cass Avenue and John R will be the safer bike routes. As a result of these Woodward bicycle safety issues, MDOT is funding improvements on Cass Avenue. Protected bike lanes from Lafayette to W. Grand Boulevard will be built this summer after the road is repaved.

Above all, if you ride Woodward, be careful! We’ve already heard of far too many bicycle crashes due to the rails and that was before streetcars were added to the mix.

We don’t want to add your name to the list.

Making sensible bicycle passing laws in Michigan

1280px-Michigan_state_capitolWe track all state legislation that gets introduced pertaining to traffic laws. Why? Like most Michigan cities, Detroit has adopted the state motor vehicle code as local ordinances. When the vehicle code changes, so to do the local traffic ordinances.

In October 2015, we found a safe passing bill for bicycles had been introduced in the Michigan House, which was apparently the same language the city of Grand Rapids used. It required drivers of vehicles to give five feet when passing bicyclists. However, we wouldn’t support it for a couple major reasons.

First, since bicyclists must follow the same rules as the driver of vehicles while on the roadway, they too would have to give five feet when passing other bicyclists.

Second, it mandated that vehicles (and bicyclists) to always pass bicyclists on the left. It would have prohibited passing bicycles on the right, which often happens:

  • When a bicyclist is in a left turn lane
  • When a bicyclist is at a light going straight and there’s a right turn lane next to to them
  • On one-way streets with more than two lanes where bicyclists can ride on either side of the road
  • Where bike lanes are on the left side of the road, like on Belle Isle.

Yes, with this legislation, cars could not legally pass bicycles in the bike lane on Belle Isle. Clearly all the implications of the bill hadn’t been considered.

We contacted the League of Michigan Bicyclists and learned they had a role in the bill language. We outlined our concerns.

Last month, we discovered a new safe passing bill was introduced in the Senate. One of the bills allowed right side passing as we’d proposed. However, the bills required bicyclists on the roadway to pass other bicyclists by five feet. Again, we couldn’t support the bills as written.

This time, working closely with our friends at Henry Ford Health System, we directly contacted the bill sponsors, State Senators David Knezek and Margaret O’Brien. We proposed alternative language so that the five foot requirement only applied to motorists.

And we were successful! Substitute bills (SB 1076 and SB 1077) with our modified language passed out of Senate committee before passing the full Senate. Since these bills aren’t tie-barred (one can pass without the other), it’s possible that just the left side-only passing bill will pass. We’ll see what happens in the House.

Being Realistic

It’s great to have Senate support for improving bicycling in Michigan. Unfortunately, there’s little data that passing bills in other states have had much effect.

These passing bills are in some ways a reaction to the tragedy earlier this year in Kalamazoo. Clearly that driver ignored the state laws regarding driving while under the influence. He all but certainly would have ignored safe passing laws had they already been enacted.

Another consideration is that 36% of all reported Detroit bike crashes with vehicles are hit and run. Fifty percent of the crashes causing a bicyclist fatality are hit and run. If the driver gets away, no new bike law will help.

The Michigan Senate also passed a bill (SB 1078) that sets minimum time of one hour for the existing motorist education requirement on laws pertaining to motorcycles and bicycles. The bill also adds the laws pertaining to pedestrians. The Coalition supports this bill and thinks

Take Action: Please contact your state representative and ask them to support Senate Bills 1076, 1077 and 1078.

 

 

Detroit Needs Complete and Safer Streets Now

Worst US Cities for Pedestrian FatalitiesLast month the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released their 2013 Traffic Safety Facts for Pedestrians report.

The statistics are grim. Every two hours a pedestrian is killed in the U.S. Fourteen percent of all road fatalities are pedestrians and that continues to trend upwards.

Among U.S. cities above 500,000 people, Detroit has the highest pedestrian fatality rate. It’s not even close. With 6.1 fatalities per 100,000 people, Detroit is well above second-place Jacksonville at 3.92.

Sadly enough, Detroit fatality rate has risen every year since 2010 when it was “only” 3.2 fatalities per 100,000.

This is a major public safety issue that everyone has a role in solving.

  • Last year Detroit City Council updated and modernized its traffic ordinances – a good first step. We expect them to take up a Complete Streets ordinance this year that makes the city consider all modes of transportation when reconstructing roadst.
  • To its credit, the Department of Public Works has been building Complete Streets projects in high-crash areas. As the statistics show, more work needs to be done. Even adding more bike lanes and road diets can help reduce speeding and make it easier for pedestrians to cross Detroit’s often wide streets.
  • Improvements in public lighting should also help reduce pedestrian crashes. Since 2010, over 80% of Detroit’s pedestrian fatalities have occurred at night and nearly half of those were in unlit areas.
  • We urge Mayor Mike Duggan to join the other 177 cities that have already signed on to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Mayors’ Challenge. This is a nationwide effort to create more seamless, convenient and safe biking and walking communities. The city with the worst pedestrian fatality rate needs to be at this table.
  • Residents and businesses should commit to clearing snow and ice from their sidewalks. During the summer, sidewalks should be cleared of debris and vegetation trimmed for good sight lines. Pedestrians are more likely to use sidewalks when they feel safe on them.
  • impact-of-speed-on-pedestrians1And lastly, all motorists need to use extra caution around pedestrians and bicyclists. Everyone needs to drive the speed limit. A “harmless” five MPH over is not harmless. At 20 MPH, a pedestrian has a 5% chance of being killed. It’s 45% at 30 MPH and 85% at 40 MPH. Unlike the Metro Detroit suburbs, most city streets have low posted speed limits. We’d like to see more people following them. Speed does kill.

Detroit has the basic underlying structure for a very walkable city. We just need to make sure it’s safe for everyone in every neighborhood. It’s about quality of life, social equity, and public health – and it needs to be everyone’s priority.

We submitted the above commentary nearly a couple weeks ago to one of Detroit’s major papers. That paper never returned our emails or voice mail, so we decided to publish it ourselves. That paper did publish their own commentary on the “full-blown public safety emergency” of potholes and bridges — neither of which can match the 312 pedestrians and 26 bicyclists killed on Detroit roads during the past decade. 

Detroit’s updated bicycle ordinances

300px-The_Spirit_of_DetroitLong ago, most Michigan municipalities eschewed their local traffic ordinances and adopted the state’s Motor Vehicle Code and Uniform Traffic Codes, both of which are fairly up to date with national guidelines.

Last May Detroit did the same.

For such a sweeping change, it was surprising that the Coalition was the only one providing public comment before City Council. We spoke in support of the change (with one “minor” exception) since it meant:

  • Bicyclists would no longer be required to have a bell. We’re not anti-bell. We just don’t think you should get a ticket for not having one.
  • Stores buying used bicycles had to make weekly reports to the police with the sellers’ names and addresses. Stores selling new or used bicycles had to file weekly reports with the purchasers’ information to the police as well. Failing to do either was a misdemeanor. We suspect no one was following this. Both were removed.
  • Vehicles turning through crosswalks must yield to bicyclists as well as pedestrians.
  • Bike lanes are defined and it’s more clear that vehicles are not allowed to drive or park in them. Both are misdemeanors.

Council passed the ordinance and it went into effect on June 1st.

With these changes in place, the Coalition is now working on educational materials and communications for cyclists, motorists, and law enforcement to roll out this Spring.

As for that “minor” exception? Stay tuned.